Frankenstein Study Guide

Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein is presented as a frame tale, told by Captain Walton while on an expedition to the North Pole, where he finds Frankenstein. Frankenstein is a scientist who created a monstrous human-like Creature. The Creature tried to explain his murders to Frankenstein, claiming that people rejected and feared him, begging Frankenstein to make him a mate. Frankenstein first agrees then destroys the mate. The enraged Creature kills Frankenstein's wife, fleeing to the North Pole. After Frankenstein dies, Walton sees the Creature mourning as he floats away on a raft.

Brief Summary

Victor was seventeen when his father decided he should attend university abroad in Ingoldstadt, Germany. Before he was supposed to leave, however, Elizabeth caught a severe case of scarlet fever. Victor's mother Caroline insisted upon nursing Elizabeth back to health and soon caught the disease. Just before dying peacefully, she told Elizabeth, who had fully recovered, and Victor that she expected them to marry.

Victor delayed going to university for several weeks, wanting to be with Elizabeth while she mourned. Elizabeth took on her new position as maternal figure in the home, comforting the others in their grief. Finally, Victor left for school, sad to be away from friendly faces yet eager to be a part of the world outside his familiar Geneva.

Victor claims an evil influence took power over his life from the moment he left for university. Thus he was led to his uncouth professor of natural philosophy, M. Krempe. Krempe deemed Victor's education thus far in the subject useless and assigned Victor modern works.

Krempe's colleague, M. Waldman, was Victor's chemistry professor. In contrast to Krempe, Waldman was kind and patient. Because of Waldman, Victor developed an intense desire to be a pioneer in the world of science, particularly in finding the secret to creating life. Waldman showed Victor his own laboratory and taught Victor how to use the various instruments, and then gave him book recommendations.

That day marked a significant turning point in Victor's life.

Detailed Summary

Victor was seventeen when his father decided he should attend university abroad in Ingoldstadt, Germany. Again, Victor alludes to a great unhappiness about to befall him at that age.

Elizabeth caught a severe case of scarlet fever. Fearing for her adopted daughter's life, Victor's mother Caroline insisted upon nursing Elizabeth back to health. Elizabeth recovered fully, but Caroline soon caught the disease. On her deathbed, she told Elizabeth and Victor she expected them to marry, and for Elizabeth to care for Victor's younger siblings. Caroline then resigned herself cheerfully to death, and calmly died.

Victor describes the anguish and grief he felt at losing his mother, though he then downplays it by pointing out that it is a universal inclination to be bitter and sad after the loss of one's most beloved. In fact, it's so common, grief is rather an indulgence than a necessity, and it is important to continue with one's life.

Victor delayed going to university for several weeks, wanting to remain with those he loved and especially to be with Elizabeth while she mourned. During that time, however, Elizabeth took on her new role of central maternal figure in the home, comforting everyone else in their grief, imparting the sunshine of her smiles on them.

The night before Victor was to leave for school, Clerval visited. He had asked his own father to join Victor at university, but his narrow-minded father had refused. Clerval was probably crushed at having been denied a college education, but resolved not to appear so. The following morning, Clerval, Elizabeth, and Victor's father saw Victor off.

On the ride to Ingoldstadt, Victor reflected on the enormous change that was taking place in his life. He was sad to be alone, away from the friendly faces that had surrounded him for years, yet he looked forward to getting an education. Also, he was eager to be a part of the world outside his familiar Geneva. He arrived at the university and retired to his apartment.

Victor claims that the Angel of Destruction took power over his life from the moment he left for university. It was this evil influence that led Victor to his professor of natural philosophy, M. Krempe, who he describes as short, gruff and uncouth. When Victor revealed that the had studied the works of ancient natural philosophers, Krempe vehemently discounted their theories, deeming Victor's education in the subject useless. He assigned Victor modern works to be studied immediately.

Although Victor had already discounted the older works, he had always appreciated the intentions behind the writers' studies, through which they had sought immortality and power. Modern philosophers, in Victor's opinion, only wished to disprove the ancient theories. Krempe's colleage, M. Waldman, was Victor's chemistry professor. In contrast to Krempe, Waldman was benevolent, and possessed a kind voice. Waldman described the modern natural philosophers as all-powerful miracle workers. Referring to nature as a feminine entity, he praised their discoveries, and how they penetrate her (nature's) most mysterious secrets.

From Waldman's words, Victor developed an intense desire to explore nature deeply, like the modern chemists. More than that, however, he wanted to be a pioneer, and reveal the secret to how life is created. He visited Waldman at his home, and Waldman welcomed Victor kindly. Hearing of Victor's early studies of the ancient natural philosophers, Waldman didn't disparage them as Krempe had, but rather said that modern natural philosophy couldn't have developed without the foundations built by those initial writers.

Victor asked Waldman for book recommendations, explaining how eager he was to learn about chemistry in particular. Waldman advised Victor to study all aspects of natural philosophy, including mathematics, if he wanted to be a true man of science. He showed Victor his own laboratory and taught Victor how to use the various instruments, and then gave him a book list.

That day marked a significant turning point in Victor's life.

Analysis

Chapter III marks an end to innocence for Victor on several fronts. First, his mother dies. This event delays his departure for school, as he stays home to grieve for several weeks with his family. Ultimately, however, Victor concludes that grieving--a natural emotional process--is an indulgence and unnecessary. He is beginning to deny nature and emotion in his quest for knowledge. The biggest and most important feminine influence in his life, his mother, is removed from him and he continues on to university in order to study with other men a male-dominated field: science.

There is a sexual overtone to Victor's exploration of and fascination with science, especially when he is inspired by Waldman's lectures. Waldman consistently refers to nature as a female, using feminine [pronoun]s when discussing her . The act of the scientist (who is male) studying nature, probing into nature's secrets, is inherently sexual. Waldman's very language is seductive and suggests the sex act: as scientists (male) they penetrate the feminine, passive, obedient nature's darkest and most secret places. This is, for the strapping young Victor, perhaps part of the allure for him to go exploring so enthusiastically. And symbolically this indicates the end of his innocent childhood, the beginning of adulthood full of knowledge.

Looking back on his early university days, Victor laments how even then a destructive force was taking hold on his life. His fascination with science and his beginning steps in laboratory study mark the beginning of the end for Victor.

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